This is ‘Old Wives Well’ in the forest near Stape in the superb North Yorks Moors in England. I came across it quite by accident a couple of days ago – although I had seen it on the map I hadn’t really taken much notice of it as I was more interested in trying to discover the location of an old cross which was nearby.
I followed a little track through the woods and suddenly came across a small area with lots of orange ribbons hanging from a tree – it was really quite creepy, like something out of ‘Blair Witch’ – and the mouth of a well was in the distance. In front of the well was a lady dressed in what looked like a white nighty, she had her back to me. There was a candle lit nearby, and her hands were in the water moving slowly about like she was washing something. She had long dark shoulder length hair.
As I was about 25 feet away I was sure she wasn’t aware of me, and I thought it would make a good photograph. I quietly put my bag on the ground and got my camera out, and looked up and…she was gone! I couldn’t have taken my eye off her for more than 5 or 6 seconds. I looked all around and there was no sign of her. Even if she had legged it through the woods I would have seen her.
I think it was then that I realized that I may have had ‘an encounter’. I quickly took 3 pics of the Well and got the Hell out of there. Now I am not psychic and I don’t ‘see things’, I have never seen a ghost and I don’t think that I have an overactive imagination. But one minute that lady (she must have been cold in her nighty – it was quite chilly) was there and 5 or 6 seconds later she wasn’t!
When I had returned to civilisation and gained my composure, I did some research.
The Well is very old possibly preRoman and may have even been used in Celtic times, and it is a Sacred Well. The name ‘Old Wives Well’ could be a reference to Bell, the wife of the local giant Wade as there is a prehistoric track way nearby which bears his name. On the stone lintel over the well chamber are the words “NATTIE FONTEIN”, carved in rough letters. It has been suggested that this could be derived from ‘Fons Natalis’ – a Celtic water nymph. The ribbons which are hanging from the tree are known as ‘clooties’ – strips of cloth are dipped in the water and a prayer said to the Goddess of the Well. When the cloth disintegates over time the prayers are answered.
I have no idea what I saw, or didn’t see. It is possible that I did see a flesh and blood person who moved incredibly fast and silently and who didn’t want her photo taken – which is what I would like it to have been – but try as I might I just can’t believe that!